Play It Like Hermès: A Luxury Icon Shows Its Playful Side


Hermes boxing gloves

Hermès, founded in 1837, remains at the apex of the luxury goods sector, balancing old world elegance with modern sensibilities to maintain market dominance and mindshare. The venerable brand is popping up all over, with fresh offerings to lure new fans—particularly in areas like Silicon Valley—and a playful attitude encapsulated in its brand campaign, “Play It Like Hermès.”

Avec Elle, an exhibition that ran at the National Art Center in Tokyo throughout July, invited attendees to immerse themselves in a cinematic experience created around the Hermès autumn/winter 2018 collection and follow “a narrative being written, a film being shot, a treasure hunt being mapped out, an enigmatic puzzle being solved,” as guests journey backstage to “peek into a dressing room, slip between sets, whisper in hushed tones between takes, improvise as an extra and daydream at the sight of the costume reserve.”

In London, meanwhile, more than 3000 ping-pong balls on acrylic stalks swayed like space-age poppies amidst bistro tables and stools in a pop-up café on the second-floor terrace of the mid-century modern Time & Life Building. According to creators Isabel + Helen, the installation was inspired by British artist Nigel Peake’s porcelain tableware, “A walk in the garden.”

A different kind of game—boxing—inspired the brand’s first U.S. VIP salon in Las Vegas, where it sells leather boxing gloves, a $42,300 Haut à courroies leather bag depicting an “endless road” and luxe goods from all 16 of Hermès’ craft métiers, with the boutique’s availability of customization drawing on the brand’s long history of bespoke designs.

“Las Vegas is so special because it allows a brand to capture clientele from all over the world,” stated Hermès USA CEO Robert B. Chavez. “We’re also showing furniture and a big home area. We can do a table setting, we can do a living room setting, we can do an office setting. This category is in demand in the Las Vegas market.”

A dedicated VIP area offers clients complete privacy. “We have a lot of special products in the VIP room such as a diamond 25cm centimeter Birkin bag. There are one-of-a-kind pieces that you’re not going to find anywhere else. It’s really the first time here in the U.S. that we’ve done a VIP room. We did it because we do have a lot of high rollers and we want to be able to cater to them and pamper them.”

“We must remain relevant in the world today and if you become irrelevant, you’re going to be dead. I think our customers appreciate that. We also have a very, very limited distribution strategy. You can’t find Hermès everywhere and our customers like that.”

The brand also is now in Silicon Valley, where it opened its 34th U.S. store, in Palo Alto, in May. “We opened this new store after our San Francisco store reaped very strong results,” said Hermès CEO Axel Dumas. “It’s also a bet on the future. Right now, you can see how residents often invest more in their cars than in their clothes. We hope to be able to change that a little.”

Hermès also recently opened its first pop-up store in the U.S. — a 1,250-square-foot space in New York devoted exclusively to shoes, designed since 1990 by Pierre Hardy. “The shoe category is significant for new client recruitment,” said Chavez of the Soho activation. “It’s bringing new customers to the website and stores alike based on the contemporary appeal of the collection. The new store came about as a result of Hardy’s contemporary designs. We wanted to explore this unique opportunity to expose these collections to a new audience.”

In addition to refashioning its website to serve as its digital flagship in Europe, Hermès spends a reported 5% of sales ($298m dollars of $6bn dollars in revenues) on advertising, as it firmly believes that “authentic luxury whispers, not shouts.” And Hermès epitomizes authenticity.

A global study by Cohn & Wolfe found that 91% of global consumers said they would reward a brand for its authenticity via “purchase, investment, endorsement or similar action.” Of this 91%, over 60% will either “purchase or express increased purchase interest” in a brand they perceive to be authentic.

“Authenticity is considered the challenge for the luxury segment of our time,” write Patricia Anna Hitzler and Günter Müller-Stewens of the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland, in a study entitled “The Strategic Role of Authenticity in the Luxury Business.”

It’s also striving to make inclusivity a hallmark of how it does what it does. In Sorède, France, for example, an establishment for people with mental disabilities still makes its whips and riding crops in hackberry wood, a strong and supple material.

Heading into summer #HermesBespoke

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While it may be known for its iconic Birkin bag, never let it be said that this iconic brand can’t learn new tricks. Along with surfboards, its skateboards include a design by Henri d’Origny made from light beechwood with a maple veneer that sells for a cool $6,800. Hermès may be playful, but it’s not playing around.